December 2, 2023


Sapiens Digital

End the brain drain of STEM talent leaving NC and the US



Editorials and other Opinion content offer perspectives on issues important to our community and are independent from the work of our newsroom reporters.

In this file photo, scientists work in an AskBio lab at Research Triangle Park. The company focuses on biotechnology and gene therapy.

In this file photo, scientists work in an AskBio lab at Research Triangle Park. The company focuses on biotechnology and gene therapy.


Our global competitors, like China, have been closing the gap with the United States for decades — building their economies, attempting to take over the manufacturing industry, funding innovation, and producing products that keep technology running worldwide.

Without action from Congress, those competitors could win the race for global talent, too, taking innovation and economic strength away from our shores.

To get ahead in this global competition, the U.S. House recently passed the COMPETES Act, which reforms the broken immigration system to allow educated and skilled STEM workers born in another country to stay and work for American businesses.

I’m proud to be the son of immigrants who came to our country to find the American Dream and I’m working now to ensure that dream is accessible to others in my community.

As a council member for Morrisville, one of the fastest growing towns in the Research Triangle Park, I know how crucial it is for the United States to remain the best destination in the world for top talent, minds and ideas.

To retain our spot as a global innovation leader, we can’t sit by as our competitive advantage in the market disappears. Congress should be laser-focused on making America the best place in the world to get an education, start a company, produce goods, and fund cutting-edge developments.

Steve Rao

Right now, we continue to slip behind because our immigration system doesn’t promote highly-skilled workers in science, technology, manufacturing and engineering by giving them a pathway to stay and contribute to the U.S. after they receive an education.

Losing those students and professionals to other countries could prove detrimental to North Carolina’s economy. In fact, our tech industry adds nearly $49 billion to the economy each year, making N.C.’s technology sector the 13th largest in the country. That sector also employs more than 360,000 people and continues to grow.

However, that trend could soon reverse under current immigration policies — at a time when the U.S. needs more workers, not less.

We already face a national and statewide shortage of skilled professionals. Before the pandemic, there were nearly 170,000 open jobs in the tech and innovation sectors. Today, there are more than 3 million open jobs in various STEM, healthcare, and professional services roles nationwide. Creating options for international students to work in the U.S. — like the reforms in the COMPETES Act — could cut the STEM-related workforce gap by a quarter and add more than $230 billion to America’s economy over the next decade.

Until Congress acts, the self-inflicted brain drain of talented professionals who go to school in America and then are forced to leave and take their ideas with them will continue to benefit our competitors — like China. We need our leaders in D.C. to come together and find a bipartisan solution to address our talent, manufacturing, and workforce shortage before it’s too late.

Sen. Thom Tillis has sponsored legislation in the past to support American research. He voted in favor of a more narrow version of the COMPETES Act, the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021. In a rare bipartisan vote, he and his Senate colleagues recently voted to send USICA to a conference committee with the House. I encourage him to prioritize keeping our country ahead of China and leading the global innovation race by including important immigration provisions in the final version of the legislation.

We have to revitalize the American Dream for the next generation of hardworking North Carolinians. Our state’s vibrant tech industry is an economic powerhouse, but it can only stay strong, and keep creating jobs for everyone if we allow businesses to hire the talent they need to grow.

North Carolina has always represented what’s possible when education, innovation and resources come together. The foreign-born STEM provisions in the COMPETES Act are one step toward a nation where those things are possible, within the Research Triangle and beyond, for years to come.

Steve S. Rao is a Morrisville Town Council member. He is a former board member of New American Economy (now a part of American Immigration Council) and serves on the N.C. League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force.

This story was originally published April 18, 2022 4:30 AM.


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